Related Links

* Social Darwinism in depth:
Think Quest Summaries

* More on Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species:
Knowledge Matters Ltd.

* More on Francis Galton:
Australian WWW Project tells Galton's story

Out of the social tides of determinism grew the eugenics movement. A textbook definition says that eugenics is the philosophy of "race improvement" through the forced sterilization of some groups and increased reproduction among others (Jurmain 2000:413). While eugenics was a natural outgrowth of nineteenth-century ideas, its official and concentrated effort was began by Francis Galton, who is considered the founder of the movement. He gave eugenics its name in 1883 and provided it with much of its ideology. Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin, argued that the successful had innate capacities which the Francis Galton image from James Cook University unsuccessful lacked and minimized the importance of the environment on an individual. In 1869, he published Hereditary Genius in which he reinforced his theory that nature was more influential than nurture in the development of man. By this time he had arrived at his doctrine that man's character and capacities were primarily shaped by heredity and that the present generation therefore had the power to control and improve the inborn qualities of the many generations to follow (Haller 1984:8-14).

Eugenics is linked closely to the concept of social Darwinism -- the belief that societies and individual human beings develop in a manner consistent with the principles of Darwin's biological evolution. Social Darwinists argued that societies, like organisms, evolved by a natural process through which the most fit members survived or were most successful. The theory went hand-in-hand with political conservatism; the most successful social classes were supposedly composed of people who were biologically superior. Also, the political brother to social Darwinism is Imperialism which involves people who viewed themselves as culturally superior and more fit to rule those that they deemed less advanced. Imperialism is responsible, along with industrialization, for the instigation of eugenics.

Between the 1890s and 1930s, the eugenics movement gathered strength as an elitist association. The scientific creeds of Darwinism and eugenics offered models for developing an ordered society. Whereas the state was unwilling to intervene in the economy to curb the negative effects of industrialization, eugenics offered a less bureaucratic solution in planning intervention in family life and sexuality. The state was run by the same class of elitists who supported eugenics and found no problem with liberal interpretations of the law. Without the force of liberalism backing the state, eugenics might have remained hypothetical. By the late 1870s, however, the state abandoned its prior liberalism in exchange for state control.

Government regulation charts image from Cold Springs Lab

Through reinstated state control, the movement was able to operate on a wide, unified scale. Artificial selection replaced natural selection. Eugenics was an attempt to move beyond party politics and use science and medicine to obtain real improvements in social conditions. The concept of a fit and healthy social class provided a means for realizing renewed stability, social integration and national power.


Audra Milligan @ 2001